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When you think of European islands to visit on holiday, where do you think of first? The ever popular Greek islands? The chic islands in the South of France? Italy’s luxury island of Capri? How about Spain’s party island, Ibiza? Most travellers, especially from North America, tend to head to these places because they are well known to them.
Have you ever thought about visiting Malta?
Read more: Things To Do While Visiting Malta
Malta is lesser known to many North American tourists, but has been frequently visited by Europeans as a holiday destination for years and with good reason; it is absolutely breathtaking and unique in so many ways.
Commonly referred to as the Pearl of the Mediterranean, Malta is the perfect place to visit for any traveller seeking a holiday to a country that is full of history, sun, excellent food and picturesque villages. From the walled cities of Valletta and Mdina to underwater shipwrecks that you can dive to and prehistoric temples to explore, this sun-drenched archipelago was influenced by numerous cultures such as the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Spanish, French, and most recently, the British. All of these influences have given an incredibly diverse array of cultural experiences, culinary offerings, architectural details and lively festivals that are celebrated throughout the entire year within Malta.
Here are 9 reasons why you should visit Malta as your next island escape.
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Malta’s climate is typically Mediterranean and has hot, dry summers, humid spring weather and cooler, yet mild and rainy winters. This tiny Southern European archipelago is an absolute dream to visit all year round. If you enjoy cooler weather, visiting from December to February will be perfect for you. Spring time temperatures gradually get warmer and the rain less frequent from the months of March to May. If you’re a sun worshiper, visiting during the summer months of June to August are ideal and the hot weather is accompanied by a nice sea breeze most of the time. September to November still boasts mild, summer-like temperatures and is a pleasant time to enjoy the nice weather, as well as fewer tourist crowds. Keep in mind that if you are visiting during the spring and autumn months, the Maltese archipelago may sometimes be affected by the Sirocco. This is a hot, dry wind that blows from the Sahara desert and is often accompanied by dust or sand. This wind blows more frequently in spring and autumn, and it is able to raise the temperature by several degrees.
Malta has approximately 200 kilometres (Gozo included) of rugged, rocky coastline to explore and enjoy. The Maltese coastline has a very unique topography and is dotted with small villages, bays, harbours, some sandy beaches and numerous cliffs. If you’re looking looking to relax on sandy beaches, they can be found mostly on the north side of the islands, such as Golden Bay and Mellieha Bay in Malta, and Ramla Bay in Gozo.
The History & Culture
Malta’s history is turbulent and has been around since 5200 BC during the Stone Age by nomad hunters, which more than likely came from Sicily. Malta has been shaped by many different civilizations, such as the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, French and most recently, the British. During WWII, Malta became the most bombed place on earth with approximately 6,700 tonnes of bombs dropped on it in just a short six weeks. Around 1979, the last bit of British forces left the islands and finally, in 2004, Malta joined the EU. Malta’s history is also known for the Order of the Knights of St. John, which were originally instituted to cure wounded soldiers and they were given the island of Malta by Charles V. The Knights of St. John introduced the Italian language on the island, built the city of Valletta and plenty of walled fortifications. The Maltese culture is a melting pot due to the diverse amount of societies that interacted within the country over thousands of years, even their language is as eclectic as the country itself and it sounds like a mixture of Italian-Arabic. Religion plays a huge role within the Maltese culture as well with most of the people identifying as practicing Catholics. There is literally a church for almost every day of the year and Malta & Gozo boast approximately 359 of them.
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Maltese architecture is unique and truly stunning. Some of the architectural styles that Malta has seen throughout the years range from the prehistoric Mnajdra Temples, Medieval, Renaissance, Neo-Gothic, Neo-Classical, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Modernist & Contemporary. Pops of colour are seen throughout the streets within the beautiful balconies, which were influenced by Arabic (Northern African design) and the colourful doorways that add unique curb appeal. The vast majority of the bright coloured balconies can be found in Malta’s capital city of Valletta, as this is where the trend started back in the mid 18th-century. The Arab origin of the balconies are referred to as a muxrabija, which is an Arabic word meaning the ‘look out place’. The doorways are adorned with unique door knockers, called il-Habbata in Maltese and range in an array of shapes from dolphins, to angels, to seashells.
The food selection in Malta is largely based around a Mediterranean style diet…with a twist, of course. Due to the multitude of ethnicities that Malta has had within its country, you’ll find traditional food such as rabbit stew, Kapunata, which is a Maltese version of ratatouille, street food stalls selling pastizzi, which are delectable little crispy pastry pockets of goodness made into diamond shape and are filled with either ricotta cheese or slightly spicy pea filling, known in Maltese as pastizzi ta’ l-irkotta and pastizzi tal-pizelli. The pastry is made using a puff-pastry dough that is so nice and crispy and crumbles in your mouth. They are so cheap, you’ll be able to get full on just a couple of Euro! The Maltese are also champs when it comes to fishing. Living on an island surrounded by the sea, if you get a fish dish, you know it’s going to be fresh. For the best fresh fish, head to the Marsaxlokk fish market on a Sunday to not only see how fish is caught, but how it is sold as well. At some restaurants, the waiter may even bring the uncooked fish to your table for you to see and approve. I was shocked when my waiter did that for me in Sliema and was definitely not expecting that kind of service. Due to Malta’s extreme close proximity to Sicily, you’ll see a lot of Italian style dishes, such as pastas, risottos, pizzas and brushetta, which are all so good and fresh.
If you are looking to travel to an interesting and unique country at a great price, then look no further than Malta. Easily one of the most affordable European countries that I’ve ever visited, you can bet that your dollar (or Euro) will stretch rather far during your visit. I travelled during winter (February 2017), so there were no price hikes for hotels, flights, taxis etc. I was able to score a hotel in Sliema with a sea view, breakfast included and king size bed for get this…under $300 CAD for a week. Yes, a week! Definitely a bargain! Food and drink prices stay relatively the same throughout the year. A domestic half litre of beer will run you about € 2.50, a litre of milk will set you back only € 0.90, a loaf of white bread is about € 1.15 and a full meal at an inexpensive restaurant will cost approximately € 15.00. Not bad, right? Public transit is super affordable as well. A monthly transit card will only run you about € 26.00. Although Malta is affordable for many things, there’s one thing that is way more expensive there than in Canada…gasoline. For one litre of gas, you’re looking at approximately € 1.40 and that fluctuates depending on the daily market. Of course, these are all approximate costs and at the time of publishing this article, this was the accurate value. For a full list of costs regarding necessities, visit the Numbeo site, which gets updated on the regular.
Easy To Navigate
The best way to explore Malta is either by walking the tiny, maze-like streets, which is how I prefer to see a city, or if visiting other towns and villages, travelling by bus is the Maltese way to do things. Over the years, Malta’s buses have had a complete overhaul. Once vintage, yet really unique looking relics, are now big, new and spacious modernized vehicles with plenty of seating room and accessible for those with accessibility issues, or baby carriages. There are many options and various routes to taking the Maltese Public Transit. You’ll be able to pay as you are boarding, or you can purchase transit cards that run from 10 trips, to monthly passes. There is also something called the Tallinja card, which is an intelligent contactless bus card designed to make it easy for you to use the bus system. The card is personalized with your photo and name and can be topped up with credit easily online, over the phone, at any of the bus service sales outlets, or at any Malta Post post office. The Tallinja card can be used to travel on all the buses in Malta and Gozo. When using the Tallinja card, you will benefit from cheaper fares than when you pay on the bus. Every time you board the bus, simply touch the reader on the bus with your Tallinja card. A fare for every journey will be deducted automatically from your available credit. I use a similar card for transit here in Toronto, Canada called the Presto card, which essentially the exact same thing except we don’t have our name and photo on it, but we do have to register it just in case it gets lost, or stolen.
Beautiful Cities And Villages
Exploring Maltese villages and cities will feel like you are walking through an open air museum and will instantly feel as though you’ve been transported into the pages of a history book. From the ancient capital city of Valletta, to the small sleepy fishing village of Marsaxlokk, you’ll fall in love with the different personalities and quirky details that each place has to offer. Some of my favourite places to explore were Mdina, Valletta and the Three Cities.
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Get ready to embrace “island time” as you stroll around Malta and visit its sister islands of Gozo and Comino. The Maltese lifestyle, as vibrant and lively as it is, is also very relaxed and laid back. Take a seat along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and listen to the waves, or head down to one of the many bays with fishermen out on the water bobbing away in their colourful luzzu boats for hours and enjoy the peaceful relaxation that so many people talk about when visiting this incredibly chill country. Get up early with a coffee and enjoy the sunrise as you slowly start your day. Warning: You may start to nod off because you are so relaxed and in the moment. 😉
The next time you are looking for a place to visit that encompasses sun, fun, history, delectable food and friendly people, why not give Malta a chance? You definitely won’t regret it and it’ll have you wondering what took you so long to discover this island gem in the Mediterranean. Have you ever thought of visiting Malta? Let me know in the comments below. xo